The CCSA/NCAA regional championships kicked off Friday at Al Quaal recreation park in Ishpeming, Michigan. The 5 and 10 kilometer individual start skate races saw abnormally warm temperatures, causing the snow to soften and deteriorate as the day went on.
With three Northern Michigan University men (Ian Torchia, Adam Martin, and Leo Hipp) and five women (Kristen Bourne, Felicia Gesior, Vivan Hett, Sarah Bezdicek, and Nicole Schnieder) away for World U23 and World Junior Championships in Romania, there was also new opportunity for podium spots over two exciting days of racing.
The day began with the women’s 5 k skate race. As temperatures held steady well above freezing, Northern Michigan’s Sophie Schimpl stormed her way to first place and her first Regional title with a time of 13:50.7. Ten seconds back from Schimpl was Saint Scholastica’s Kelsey Dickinson in second place. Dickinson’s second place finish is also the best placing by a Saints women at a Regional Championship, according to Saints coach Chad Salmela.
“This is the most memorable ski race I’ve ever had,” said Dickinson of her performance. “Including biathlon.”
Dickinson raced two seasons internationally as a member of the junior and senior U.S. Biathlon Teams before returning to St. Scholastica this year.
Coming in a strong third place, another ten seconds down to Dickinson was Michigan Tech’s Andrea Lee. Right behind Lee by less than a second was Northern Michigan freshman Sophie McDonald in fourth.
The women of the University of Alaska Fairbanks were operating like a well-oiled machine today placing fifth, sixth and seventh with Nichole Bathe, Anne-Tine Markset and Sarissa Lammers all coming in with less than five seconds separating all three racers. This performance was good enough to place UAF in second on the day with 57 points behind Northern Michigan University’s 62 points.
Northern Michigan’s third scorer, Caroline Brisbois, wasn’t far off the women of UAF in eighth. Saint Scholastica’s Elizabeth Evans followed in ninth and Northern Michigan’s Vera Gruber rounded out the top ten.
The team podium is still up for grabs as all of the team scores are very close heading into tomorrow’s 15k classic mass start. Northern Michigan leads with 62 points, they are followed by UAF, 57 points and Saint Scholastica in third with 52 points and they are followed very closely by the women of Michigan Tech with 51 points.
On the men’s side of things, the temperatures remained well above freezing causing the conditions to soften as more and more racers lapped the course for the 2 lap, 10 k race.
Northern Michigan’s Jake Brown stomped his authority all over the men’s race to take his first ever regional title finishing with a time of 24:36.6, a full minute and four seconds ahead of Michigan Tech’s Kyle Hanson who took second on the day. In third was Reitler Hodgert of the College of Saint Scholastica, just 0.2 seconds behind Hanson.
“I’m super happy for both Jake and Sophie today,” said Northern Michigan Coach Sten Fjeldheim. “For both of them to take not only the individual regional title, but have it be their first time doing it is just amazing!”
The men of Northern Michigan followed in the footsteps of their women’s team by placing in the same exact places with fourth, Sam Elfstrom and eighth, Krystof Kopal, to give them the team lead with 62 points after day one.
Michigan Tech solidified their second place team score of 58 points with strong performance behind Hanson with Gaspard Cuenot in sixth and Didrik Fjeld Elset in ninth.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks took fifth (Max Donaldson), tenth (Alexander Eckert) and eleventh (Michael Fehrenbach) for the team to take third overall; skiing into seventh place was Matthew Nichols of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay.
Day two of the CCSA/NCAA Regionals was host to another day of hard fast racing. After the warm temperatures of Saturday, the weather took a turn and produced colder temperatures overnight. This caused the courses to freeze solid, making it difficult to set a solid track at Al Quaal. The grooming crew did a great job with what they were given and the races went off without a hitch.
The men and women of the University of Alaska Fairbanks were out to make a statement, and did just that by winning the team events for the day. The men led it off with the 20k classic mass start. University of Alaska Fairbanks Fehrenbach took the win after just over an hour of racing, by out sprinting Northern Michigan’s Brown.
“It was great for Michael Fehrenbach grab his first win of the year in the last CCSA race,” said UAF coach Nick Crawford. “We knew he could do it all year and I’m glad it finally came together today.”
Racing was extremely close with the top six being separated by only 26 seconds. Michigan Tech’s Cuenot crossed the finish line in third, less than 4 seconds behind Brown. From there, UAF and Northern Michigan traded blows as UAF took fourth with Jan Cech, Northern countered in fifth with Elfstrom. Reitler Hodgert snuck into sixth, for Saint Scholastica’s solo men’s top ten. Applying the finishing blow to Northern Michigans run for today’s win was UAF’s Donaldson in seventh, beating out Northern’s Fredrik Schwenke by four seconds to register their third scorer and take the team win for the day with 63 points to Northerns 60.
Michigan Tech’s Kyle Hanson and Didrik Elset finished ninth and tenth to give their team 53 points and third in the team scores.
On the women’s side, Northern Michigan and UAF continued to trade haymakers for the top spot in the day’s team scores. The day was ruled by Michigan Tech’s Lee as she attacked on the last lap of the three-lap 15 k race to win by over 15 seconds. Once Lee was across the line the battle ensued with UAF’s Bathe and Markset delivering a one-two punch, finishing second and third. Northern Michigan responded with three big shots and put their three top girls in fourth, fifth and sixth with Brisbois, Schimpl and Lea Buenter. The assault of UAF proved to be too much today as their third scorer, Lammers crossed in seventh, giving her team 63 points and the win over Northern by 3.
“Our women had an outstanding day with 4 in the top 10 and two on the podium!” said coach Crawford. “It was really fun for Nichole and Anne-Tine to go 2-3 today and we’re excited to see how they do at NCAA’s.”
Dickinson of the College of Saint Scholastica led her team in 8th place. She was followed by another UAF skier, Ann-Cathrin Uhl in ninth and Saints teammate Evans in tenth.
In the overall team scores the men of Northern Michigan were able to weather the storm kept their lead from day one to take the overall Regional Championship with a total of 122 points. University of Alaska Fairbanks was second with 112 points, just narrowly beating out Michigan Tech with 111 points.
Northern Michigan’s women were able to hang on after the onslaught from the women of UAF to finish first for the weekend and taking the Regional Championship with 122 points. UAF followed closely with 120 points. Michigan Tech took third with 100 points, just beating out Saint Scholastica for the last podium spot by one point.
With both men and womens teams taking Regional Titles, Northern Michigan University was awarded the combined Regional Championship.
“I’m really proud of our team today,” said Northern Michigan coach Sten Fjeldheim. “We saw some great racing out there this weekend and everyone dug really deep to get this win. We had some awesome results from some of our athletes like Sam Elfstrom who had two of the best results of his career this weekend, and our two freshman Lea Buenter and Sophie McDonald who also posted season best results.”
As these races mark the end of the CCSA regular season, some athletes will be looking to the NCAA championships in Steamboat springs that start March 9th.